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Published: 01/09/2014 - by Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
For almost four decades, the go-to choice for a luxury sport coupe has been the BMW 3 Series. But that's all changed with the introduction of the new 4 Series. The 3 Series soldiers on, delivering high levels of driver engagement and comfort as it always has, but now only in sedan form. The 2014 BMW 4 Series takes up where the 3 Series coupe left off. For the time being, the new 4 Series is available in coupe or convertible body styles. A "four-door coupe" Gran Coupe is even rumored to be in the works.
Compared to the current 3 Series sedan, the 4 Series coupe is marginally wider and longer. More significantly, its roof sits a full 2 inches lower, giving it a more aggressive stance. Combined with the sleek coupe profile, the 4 Series could easily be thought of as a baby 6 Series. To its credit, this beauty isn't just skin-deep, either.
Quicker and Better Handling Than Its Competition
Among the current 4 Series, shoppers can choose from the 428i, which uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque or the more powerful 435i and its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder that ups output to 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. Either can be outfitted with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive and all but the 428i xDrive can also be had with a six-speed manual transmission instead of the standard eight-speed automatic.
The car you see here is a 2014 BMW 428i that's surprisingly short on convenience options. In addition to its $41,425 price, our Estoril Blue coupe included the M Sport and Dynamic Handling package, as well as upgraded M Sport brakes. All in, it totaled $47,125 — a hefty sum for a car lacking both navigation and a rearview camera. The soon-to-be-replaced and similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz C250 costs $3,090 less and an all-wheel-drive Audi A5 is $5,525 less. Even an identically optioned 3 Series sedan is $1,800 cheaper.
What do you get for the extra expense? Performance. Except for the 3 Series, of course, which is virtually indistinguishable from behind the wheel. In Edmunds' testing, the 2014 BMW 428i dashed from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds (5.1 seconds with one foot of roll out as on a drag strip) and completed the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 98.6 mph, easily outpacing the Mercedes C250 by 1.9 seconds. In all likelihood the Audi splits the difference. In terms of handling, the BMW continues its dominance over the Benz by weaving through the slalom at 67.1 mph and pulling 0.88 g around our skid pad. The C250 trails with 64.4 mph and 0.86 g, respectively.
More important than test numbers, though, is the driving reward on offer here. Weighing in at 3,517 pounds, with a nearly perfect 50.4/49.6 percent distribution front to back, the sleek coupe is an absolute joy to zigzag up twisting mountain passes. Even as it approaches its handling limits, the 428i is poised and confidently anchored to the pavement. Steering is direct and very responsive and the transmission's eight speeds are appropriately spaced to keep power on tap. There's enough power to get the rear tires to break free with a deliberate midcorner whack of the throttle.
The M Sport brake upgrade also proved it was up to the task, with no detectable fade after many hard applications. This was confirmed at the track, where the 428i stopped from 60 mph in a short 110 feet.
A Driving Mode for Every Road
During our blast through the canyons, we preferred the Sport Plus setting which firms up the dampers and sharpens throttle response. We also opted to select gears manually via wheel-mounted paddles. On the other side of the spectrum the Eco Pro mode softens the ride and dulls throttle response. Intended to get better fuel economy, this mode is acceptable in everyday driving, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic where immediacy is irrelevant.
The differences between Sport Plus and Eco Pro aren't as disparate as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comparison, either. It's more like Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll on Red Bull. We sampled both on our evaluation loop which is mostly highway driving with several miles of entertaining curves in the middle. The 428i achieved 32 mpg on that loop and averaged 25.2 mpg overall during its time with us. These figures are slightly lower than the EPA's estimate of 27 mpg combined (23 city/35 highway), but they still beat its Mercedes and Audi rivals.
Besides the Eco Pro mode, the 428i's fuel economy numbers can also be attributed to the automatic start-stop system that shuts the engine off when stopped. The engine springs back to life when brake pressure is released, though it does delay a quick getaway by a half-second or so. It's easy to anticipate this delay or to bypass it completely by easing off the brake pedal early or disabling the system altogether with a push of a button. In heavy traffic, the air-conditioning would shut off as well, which resulted in an occasional fogging of the windshield.
Between Eco Pro and Sport Plus modes are the Comfort and Sport settings. As expected, these incrementally fill the void. In practice, though, we usually switched between the two extremes, ignoring the intermediaries.
Comfortable but With Typical Coupe Compromises
Inside, the 2014 BMW 428i artfully blends modern luxury with a serious sporty character. With the M Sport package, there's an additional emphasis on the performance component with sport seats and a sport steering wheel. Those seats provide ample lateral support for a variety of body types thanks to adjustable side bolsters. Despite the lack of lumbar adjustments and the use of BMW's synthetic leather coverings, front-seat passengers are assured many hours of comfortable touring without any noticeable fatigue.
The same cannot be said for the rear-seat passengers, however. The sloping rear roofline cuts into rear headroom and the seat cushions are mounted low to the floor. This makes rear accommodations acceptable only for smaller adults or children. But this issue isn't exclusive to the 428i alone, as rival sport coupes don't fare any better. The 4 Series coupe does have an advantage in terms of cargo capacity, though, with a 15.7-cubic-foot trunk — more than 3 cubic feet larger than the competition.
Anyone who has been in a recent BMW will feel right at home in the new 4 Series. The interior materials maintain the high standard we've become accustomed to and the overall design is pleasingly modern. All controls are thoughtfully placed, as are the simple gauges and main display mounted atop the dash.
Noticeably absent in our test vehicle, however, was the $3,150 Technology package that adds a navigation system and the $1,900 Driver Assistance package that includes a rearview camera. All-around visibility is good enough, however, to not have to rely on a rearview camera when backing into a tight parking space.
BMW's new 4 Series fulfills any expectations demanded of the venerable 3 Series Coupe. Among luxury sport coupes it delivers more in the way of driver engagement and entertainment without sacrificing comfort. Though it's the entry level to the more stirring 435i and forthcoming M4, there's enough potential on tap to please the vast majority of pilots.
While the Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class are without any glaring faults, the 2014 BMW 428i is the car that we want to drive most. If you still value an engaging driver's car the additional cost is worth it. Among the options in this segment, it's the coupe most likely to have you taking the long way home — regardless of what it's called.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.